Sunday, February 24, 2008

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007, Cristian Mungiu)

Sorry folks, it's been a busy week. I'm catching up on homework, some capsules, and a mini-essay on my observations thus far in my project. Hopefully I'll have everything done soon! Plus, it's my birthday! Yay!

Without further ado:

While I appreciate the film and the filmmaker for addressing the cinematically taboo subject of abortion directly, I can’t help but be disappointed with the heavy-handed pessimism and victimization felt throughout the entirety of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. To put it bluntly, every man is a predator and every woman is prey. It’s exhaustingly manipulative in both aesthetics and themes, especially the use of the "box" framing device which is constantly used on the female characters to further imply their persecution.

Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), the film’s central character, is supposed to be seen as some sort of a feminist hero because she “fights” the oppressive forces that bind her to the situation she’s in - namely, helping out her best friend, Gabriela “Gabita“ (Laura Vasiliu), secure an illegal abortion in pre-revolutionist Romania. But that’s just surface level.

Instead, the film depicts Otilia as well as all of the other women (especially Gabita) as helpless victims who somehow know they’re being victimized yet never do anything about it (except pray on each other for some reason). The most blatant offender is Gabita, who manipulates Otilia several times without any consequence befalling her - she seems to like all of the ill-treatment she’s receiving because it ups her “woe as me” ante and even that’s giving her more foresight than I think she deserves.

The only way I can understand Otilia as a feminist hero is through the idea that she’s the only woman in the film who is seen as active - she’s basically the lone female character seen outdoors aside from the abortionist’s senile mother who, when on screen, is being ushered back inside her home (notice Otilia‘s blank and uncaring stare while she watches from afar). Yet even when Otilia is outside she’s always doing errands for other people and I never, for one instance, feel as if Otilia is performing any of these exhaustive labors for herself or the good of her community.

She’s more than happy to serve up anything from perfunctory sex to hotel reservations as long as she never thinks to herself - "why am I doing this?" Her character is entirely stripped of independence, ambition, and thought, which I suppose could be the point of the film, but the mere fact that we are forced to understand her perspective only when considering that she’s running on survival instincts that aren’t hers speaks volumes about the failure of this film.

The setting of this film is the Romania of 1987. Two years later, a (partially) student-led revolution ended communism in the country. What’s clear to me after 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days is Otilia had absolutely nothing to do with it - which begs the question - why am I watching her?


Daniel said...

Happy birthday Sara! Not to be to confrontational here, but after reading your thoughts here I thought it was important to mention what I consider to be a key aspect of the film that you might be neglecting, that is the notion that the structure and aesthetic of the film seem to me clearly designed to portray what it is like to live in a communist regime. You mention that you feel that Otilla does nothing for herself, or that she does things for other people without thinking it through, and that she does nothing to help her community. Yes! That seems to me the key to the film's power. The film also suggests very strongly that such a social situation exists only because these oppressed people are fighting each other and not the political structure that keeps them down. It's classic Orwell - keep the proles busy/occupied/drunk/distracted and no one will realize that you are robbing/raping/killing them (broadly speaking). As to your suggestion that her character is too passive to have taken part in the student revolution that is brewing - it seems to me her solitary journey at the end of the film as she's trying to dispose of the fetus is also a journey of self actualization and self awareness.

Sara said...

Hey Dan,

Thanks for the birthday wishes!


I'll concede to the fact that I failed to examine the film through two separate political lenses, as I intentionally concentrated on the film through a feminist perspective. It's not that I don't understand the intention of the film, I just don't understand why a filmmaker would choose pertinent women's issues, specifically the issue of abortion, is chosen to exercise the idea of living in a communist regime. I hate to talk in "what if's", but if Mungiu had chosen any other topic or gone with the original idea of making it a multi-faceted tale with different storylines, I think the film would have had a greater impact with its message, at least in my case, because it would have directly affected everyone - regardless of gender. Why make it about women's issues and address another topic all-together?

Another concession I suppose I should make is my own bias towards abortion - the film seems to be pro-choice, though that is the one aspect the film fails to hit us on the head with. It makes the idea of abortion even more horrifying than it's already regarded as and if we are to live in an equally gendered world, abortion in cinema needs to be more responsibly portrayed. In my eyes, 4 months' depiction of the surgery is even more offensive than the five minutes Juno spends in the abortion clinic surrounded by racist teeny-boppers who proclaim "all babies want to get borned" and pie-smelling condoms.

Bill Treadway said...

There's a reason this was overlooked by the's not very good.

I had the same problems you did watching this. Want to tackle an important issue such as abortion? Fine. But at least follow through on it. I think Mungiu didn't have any idea how to finish what he started.

I can see why it got all the acclaim it did..this is the kind of film critics love to praise- seemingly important. But there's so little there underneath.

P.S. Daniel Day-Lewis ruined my Sunday.